This week’s readings were focused on the possible roles and symbolism of food in Latin American popular culture. Despite the readings being very different, a common theme between the two is the actual or symbolic power of food as a form of rebellion against oppression. Where Rosario Castellanos in “Cooking Lessons” uses the action of cooking meat to assist in the explanation of sexism and misogyny, Marisa Brandt explains the role of maize in Mexican Indigenous cultures and political battles.
When reading Castellanos’ short story, I was immediately captivated by her writing style and the storyline. I was recently reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963) and was instantly reminded of her writing while reading Castellanos’ work. Based on this short story, I would say that Plath and Castellanos’ writing styles are both simultaneously surreal and sharp, as they have their own cynical and satirical thoughts that interrupt the narrations of the mundane life activities. The similarities in their literary styles and themes make sense as these pieces were written in the 1960s and 1970s, which is concurrent with the global rise of second-wave feminism, as well as psychedelic experimentation in arts and culture.
In their stories, both Plath and Castellanos write about similar feelings of entrapment at the hands of their husbands, gender-based oppression, animosity towards patriarchal norms, and a variety of similar topics. By using the meat as a symbol for herself, Castellanos comments on female objectification and oppression, maybe even alluding to her own internalization of these values as she is the one also cooking the meat.
Additionally, in The Bell Jar Plath, which is semi-autobiographical, the main character is extremely depressed and I feel like the protagonist in Castellano’s story is also depressed and a reflection of Castellanos herself. The way she sarcastically comments on her tasks and experiences as if the person doing those things were somebody else gives me the impression that she is experiencing depersonalization, which is when a person becomes a detached observer of themselves.
When Castellanos writes this following part, I feel as though she is admitting that her onset of sadness and her inability to recognize herself is due to her husband, who I believe is symbolic of the overarching societal structures of patriarchy:
“When some employee pages me in the lobby of the hotel I remain deaf with that vague uneasiness that is the prelude to recognition. Who could that person be who doesn’t answer?… Is it anxiety that presses against my heart? No, it’s his hand pressing on my shoulder and his lips smiling at me in benevolent mockery, more like a sorcerer than a master” (p.348).
Overall, I really enjoyed reading both of the readings for this week but felt most connected to Castellanos’ story. Much of her experiences and resentments resonate with me. Both because I grew up in a Latino home with similar gendered expectations and norms, and because our society is still quite sexist despite us claiming it is not.
Discussion question: What do you guys think about the symbolism of her preparing the meat? Does it mean something that she is the one talking about herself as the food and simultaneously cooking it?